1. Nashville Directed by Robert Altman Written by Joan Tewkesbury
Some of my friends dismiss this one as a smug left-coaster giving a raspberry to flyover country. To them I point out that the least sympathetic characters in the whole vast cast are the rocker from LA and the reporter from the UK. Altman's withering satire is nothing if not universal.
2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Directed by Milos Forman Written by Bo Goldman and Lawrence Hauben, from a novel by Ken Kesey
Perhaps it wasn't obvious at the time, but this scathing attack on the nanny state suggests an invisible fissure in the counterculture. I imagine some young hipster watching All in the Family one night in 1975 and then heading out for a late screening of this movie, never dreaming that his hero Rob Reiner would turn out to have more in common with Nurse Ratched than with McMurphy.
3. Love and Death Written and directed by Woody Allen
His funniest film, and his most pointedly political picture too.
4. Dog Day Afternoon Directed by Sidney Lumet Written by Frank Pierson
Best bank-robbery movie ever. "Sal, Wyoming's not a country."
5. Picnic at Hanging Rock Directed by Peter Weir Written by Cliff Green, from a novel by Joan Lindsay
If you want to understand the mass media's fixation on disappearing white girls, start here.
6. Swept Away...by an unusual destiny in the blue sea of August Written and directed by Lina Wertmuller
A comedy about the complexities of love, lust, and power, and the difficulties in discerning who wields the latter when the first two forces are in play. I'm reminded of a line from the Firesign Theatre: "It's a new world now, honey! Nobody's gwine have to be a slave all de time no mo'. We's gwine take turns."
7. Fox and His Friends Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder Written by Fassbinder and Christian Hohoff
Fassbinder was a trailblazing gay director, a man who somehow managed to fuse the aesthetics of Douglas Sirk and John Cassavetes, and, like Wertmuller, a radical with no patience for political correctness. I'll steal a passage from Roger Ebert: "Years before Hollywood made its first faltering steps in the direction of a new frankness about homosexuality, Fassbinder was miles out in front. He was so comfortable with gay characters that he felt no hesitation in portraying some of them as selfish, brutal and grasping -- as evil, indeed, as heterosexuals in other movies. Here is a movie about characters who define themselves by their sexuality, but the movie doesn't. It takes the sexuality as a given, and defines them by their values and morals."
8. Jaws Directed by Steven Spielberg Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, from Benchley's novel
There's a small handful of Spielberg movies that I like, but if all his pictures were to disappear from the earth tomorrow this is the only one I'd miss.
9. Grey Gardens Directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, and Muffie Meyer
The best documentaries are about people, not events. This one captures two aging eccentrics whose relationship can never be entirely explained, just observed.
10. The Man Who Would Be King Directed by John Huston Written by Huston and Gladys Hill, from a story by Rudyard Kipling